|bicycles parked on an Amsterdam street|
One night in Copenhagen, I was waiting for the hotel elevator, when two Danish men about my age stepped out of their room. One of them belched loudly as he stepped into the corridor — then saw me, and was embarrassed. They both started chuckling, and speaking to me, both at once, in Danish.
“I’m sorry,” I said in English, “I don’t speak –.” Then I stopped, because I couldn’t remember what country I was in or which language it was that I couldn’t speak this time. This happens when you keep crossing borders; a few hours ago, I’d been in Sweden; the next day, I was going to be in Spain.
“Oh, you don’t speak that language?” one of them said, speaking English now. “It was a Danish word for –” and he went on to explain to me how his friend hadn’t actually belched, he’d been saying something very intelligent in Danish. 🙂
The next day, when I told my cab driver in Madrid the address of my hotel, he began speaking to me rapidly in Spanish, and I was able to gather there was some sort of problem. Definitely having to do with a bicycle, but that was all I could make out. “I do speak a little bit of terrible Italian,” I said in terrible Italian, and at that point, matters improved greatly, because it turned out that my cab driver also spoke a little bit of terrible Italian. “It’s the Vuelta a España,” he explained. “Like the Tour de France or the Giro d’Italia, but in Spain. The final stage is today and it passes directly in front of your hotel, so I don’t know how close I’m going to be able to get you.”
“That is not a problem,” I said. “It is possible for me to move myself on this my foot.” (I’m pretty sure that’s what my Italian sounds like, on a good day.)
He was able to drop me off on a small street a short distance from my hotel. He pointed me toward it and, dutifully, I began to move myself on this my foot. Then, when I got there, all hell broke loose.
Can you believe that timing? Seriously? I’m sorry it’s so shaky. There were crowds, I had my luggage, and it was all I could do to pull my phone out in time.
I’ve blogged before about jet lag, about how there’s a lot more going on than sleep deprivation. I feel the same about language lag. By the time I got to Amsterdam, I was saying “hola” and “merci” and all sorts of random configurations (usually including spatterings of my terrible Italian, even though, please note, I never went to Italy on this trip) left and right; by the time I got “dankje wel” down (am I spelling that right? I have no idea), it was time to go home.
There are people who don’t have a problem with jet lag… but the people I really envy are the polyglots. I have a hard time learning foreign languages; usually, when asked what Grace I’d like to have, I say a Grace that allows me to learn foreign languages easily and switch from one to the other with minimal confusion.
Thanks to all my publishers for accommodating my inability to speak your language :o).
To send you on your way, here are some people riding bicycles on a rainy Amsterdam day. (How do they hold an umbrella and ride a bicycle at the same time?!)